Wind, sun not ready – Turks and Caicos

Eddinton Powell (second left) with Rotary members and Fortis executives

AMID calls for Turks and Caicos to embrace fully wind and sun energy as an alternative to fossil fuels, a leading electricity supplier says that is not likely in the foreseeable future.

Mr Eddinton Powell, CEO of Fortis TCI, the territory’s leading power supplier, told members of the Providenciales Rotary Club early September that there is no imminent replacement of diesel as the main fuel for electricity generation mainly because these renewable energy sources are of a ‘non-firm capacity’ and current technology does not allow for efficient storage of electricity generated by those elements.

As Mr Powell threw cold water on the likelihood of wind and sunshine becoming mainstream sources of energy for electricity generation, he however spoke of another renewable energy source – natural gas – coming on to be a major player alongside diesel while technology makes the other elements more reliable suppliers for power production.
Referring to suggestions that as much as 50 per cent of the electricity should be generated from wind and the sun, Mr Powell said: “The minute the wind stops blowing, or the sun stops shining you would have black out. That is absolutely a fact. … When the wind doesn’t blow, the sun doesn’t shine, it doesn’t work.”

Mr Powell’s presentation to Rotarians on September 13 was in similar vein to one delivered to the Providenciales Chamber of Commerce in February.

A principle factor affecting wind and sunshine becoming “firm” sources for energy generation on a commercial scale is the inability of current technology to cost-efficiently store surplus energy generated for use during down time.

The CEO stressed that his company did not object to employment of those renewable sources for electricity generation, but the technology governing their use on a wide scale as a utility plant was not now feasible.

“We must approach renewable energy very carefully … I support renewable energy… I support people who want to put up photovoltaic [solar power] systems in their homes. In fact I encourage it if it’s economical for the home owner.

“We’re not opposed to renewable energy. I tell people if you can supply it at an affordable cost, I’ll buy it. Because I’m not in the oil business, I’m in the energy delivery business, and I’ll deliver to my customers,” he said, but emphasised that such supplies must not increase costs to consumers.

“I will not buy it and charge my customers more.”

Further underlining the unreliability of wind as a large-scale commercial energy generator, he referred to recent travels in Holland through areas where windmill generators were set up on large expanses, but none of the devices was at the time turning because there was no wind, resulting in no power being generated.

He estimated that it may take another 18 to 20 years before technology makes renewable energy a viable source for wide scale commercial and domestic power supplies.

While dismissing the readiness of wind and solar power as reliable sources of energy supplies, Mr Powell on the other hand hailed natural gas as a renewable commodity that is almost ready for use worldwide in power generation.

“I don’t think it is feasible right now, but I think natural gas does provide an energy bridge to renewable energy.”

He said that natural gas is so abundant in Caribbean territories like Trinidad and Tobago and worldwide that its imminent use in power generation should serve to fill the 18 to 20-year void between the time technology makes wind and solar power reliable and commercially viable sources of electricity for use alongside diesel.

And, he stressed that natural gas is a cheaper alternative for energy generation.

According to Mr Powell, the cost per BTU [heat generation unit] for liquefied natural gas ranges between $35 and $40, while for crude oil the figure is $85 to $87.

He said that super tanker vessels are now being built to move natural gas cheaply to various international markets.

“The ability to transport and handle natural gas is actually improving, so I can see sometime in the foreseeable future, seven to 10 years out.”

Mr Powell forecast that with the passage of these years natural gas would be employed on a dual usage basis with diesel in the generation of electricity in Turks and Caicos.